The role we play in our own economic demise is mind-boggling. First, our priorities are screwed up. We place more emphasis on some of the most meaningless issues and aspects of life. We use much of our time talking about the TV housewives, the preachers, the husbands, the Grammys, the fashions, and yes, politics, and fail to do what it takes to really empower ourselves. It is a case where the poorest in this society are doing everything they can to further enrich the affluent.
Of course, it is by design and there has to be a willing and, as Amos Wilson said, "stupid" consumer class to maintain our capitalistic system. But this is not a diatribe against rich people; as a matter of fact, I wish we had more rich people rising from the ranks of the poor. Rather, I just want to illustrate our participation in keeping ourselves in the very place we complain about being.
The affluent are piling up more cash than they could spend in a three lifetimes yet they never get distracted from their mission. They do not succumb to being dumbed down by stupid, time-wasting TV shows of no-redeeming-value. They are not swooning over politics; they know it’s nothing but a game and another means for them to get even richer. Yes, some of them are even willing to break the law, sacrifice their morality, and do unethical things to get what they want. But I am certainly not suggesting we go that far.
I am suggesting that we stop being the fodder for our economic system, at least not to extent we are now. I am suggesting that we take ourselves more seriously and start playing to win. Aside from the obvious problems for our children, this is also a problem for the country. The rich save and the poor spend, which heightens the importance of income inequality. If the vast majority of the money in the system always finds its way to the top 1 percent, thereby, not very likely to be spent, then what happens to consumption, which comprises two-thirds of our GDP?
It’s one thing to talk about income and wealth disparities, but it’s an entirely different thing to get down to the business of doing something about it. We can, as Red said in Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’" and that begins by studying and learning how business is done in this country. Find out what your individual role is and what our collective role is, and then change the paradigm.
Stop buying so much stuff that others make; start buying more of what we make. Stop complaining about others starting businesses in our neighborhoods; start our own. Slow down spending; increase saving. Use Black financial planners, tax preparers, accountants, lawyers, and yes, sports agents, start building a relationship with a bank, a Black bank if possible, and stop falling for those celebrity prepaid debit card rip-offs.
I understand that some folks cannot get checking accounts, which causes some of them to fall prey to high profile celebrities who endorse cards that charge usury fees. But regardless of your situation, you should try to build a relationship with a bank or credit union, and stop paying outrageous fees to spend your own money?
Those cards, backed by the likes of Russell Simmons, Magic Johnson, Lil’ Wayne, just to name a few, only increase their affluence and perpetuate your poverty. They charge loading fees, monthly fees, ATM fees, and even "inactivity" fees, of which the so-called "Rush Card" has the highest. Check them out for yourself, and stop being clowned by these guys and their backers. If you must use a prepaid card, find the cheapest one; you don’t need a celebrity’s face on it or an endorsement by a celebrity for it to work for you.
Finally, in his State of the Union message, the president said no one should to have to raise a family in poverty, and therefore we need to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Poverty level for a four-person household is $23,850; at $10.10 per hour and with one person working, that household would earn $21,008. Duh! Don’t get emotionally hyped by mere words; do some research and know the facts. Accounting for inflation and productivity, some reports indicate the minimum wage should be even higher, and unless it is tied to inflation, with raises every year, "10-10" will go down in history as just another cute political phrase.
Sure, we should raise wages for the lower tier of workers, but that in and of itself will not make a dent in the "inequality gap" now being discussed. As stated earlier, poor people spend; rich people save. Thus, the cycle continues.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.